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Youth violence

Fact sheet N°356
August 2011


Key facts

  • Worldwide some 250 000 homicides occur among youth 10–29 years of age each year, which is 41% of the total number of homicides globally each year.
  • For each young person killed, 20–40 more sustain injuries requiring hospital treatment.
  • In one study, from 3 to 24% of women report that their first sexual experience was forced.
  • Youth violence has a serious, often lifelong, impact on a person's psychological and social functioning.
  • Youth violence greatly increases the costs of health, welfare and criminal justice services; reduces productivity; decreases the value of property; and generally undermines the fabric of society.

Youth violence is a global public health problem. It includes a range of acts from bullying and physical fighting, through more severe sexual and physical assault to homicide.

Scope of the problem

Worldwide an estimated 250 000 homicides occur among youth 10–29 years of age each year. This is 41% of the total number of homicides globally each year. Youth homicide rates vary dramatically between and within countries. However, in all countries, young males constitute both the majority of perpetrators and victims of homicide. Rates of youth homicide among females are much lower than rates among males almost everywhere. In the years 1990–2004, rates of youth homicide have increased in many developing countries, and declined in several developed countries.

For every young person killed by violence, 20–40 more sustain injuries that require hospital treatment. Non-fatal violent injuries involve substantially fewer firearm attacks than fatal assaults and involve a greater use of fists, feet, knives and clubs.

Sexual violence also affects a significant proportion of youth. For example, 3–24% of women surveyed in the WHO Multi-country study on women's health and domestic violence report that their first sexual experience was forced. Physical fighting and bullying are also common among young people. A study of 40 developing countries showed that exposure to bullying ranged from 8.6–45.2% in boys and from 4.8–35.8% in girls.

Youth homicide and non-fatal violence not only contribute greatly to the global burden of premature death, injury and disability, but also have a serious, often lifelong, impact on a person's psychological and social functioning. This can affect victims' families, friends and communities. Youth violence adds greatly to the costs of health, welfare and criminal justice services; reduces productivity; decreases the value of property; and generally undermines the fabric of society.

Risk factors

Factors that increase the likelihood of youth violence are complex.

Risk factors within the individual
  • hyperactivity
  • impulsiveness
  • poor behavioural control
  • attention problems
  • history of aggressive behaviour
  • early involvement with alcohol, drugs and tobacco
  • antisocial beliefs and attitudes
  • low intelligence and educational achievement
  • low commitment to school and school failure
  • coming from a single-parent household
  • experiencing parental separation or divorce
  • exposure to violence in the family.
Risk factors within close relationships (family, friends, intimate partners, and peers)
  • poor monitoring and supervision of children by parents
  • harsh, lax or inconsistent parental disciplinary practices
  • a low level of attachment between parents and children
  • low parental involvement in children's activities
  • parental substance abuse or criminality
  • low family income
  • associating with delinquent peers.
Risk factors within the community and wider society
  • low levels of social cohesion within a community;
  • gangs and a local supply of guns and illicit drugs;
  • an absence of non-violent alternatives for resolving conflicts;
  • high income inequality;
  • rapid social and demographic changes;
  • urbanization;
  • quality of a country’s governance (its laws and the extent to which they are enforced, as well as policies for education and social protection).

Prevention

Prevention programmes shown to be effective include:

  • life skills and social development programmes designed to help children and adolescents manage anger, resolve conflict, and develop the necessary social skills to solve problems;
  • schools-based anti-bullying prevention programmes.

Promising youth violence prevention programmes – whose effectiveness, however, needs more research – include:

  • programmes that support parents and teach positive parenting skills (such as through a nurse visiting the home);
  • preschool programmes that provide children with academic and social skills at an early age;
  • programmes that improve school settings, policies, teacher practices, and security measures;
  • reducing access to alcohol through increased taxation and through reductions in sales outlet density;
  • improving the management of drinking environments (e.g. reducing crowding, training bar staff, increasing enforcement of existing licensing legislation);
  • restrictive firearm licensing and purchasing policies;
  • enforced bans on carrying firearms in public;
  • programmes to reduce concentrations of poverty through the provision of housing vouchers to help families move out of economically deprived neighbourhoods.

Preventing youth violence requires a comprehensive approach that also addresses the social determinants of violence, such as income inequality, rapid demographic and social change, and low levels of social protection.

Critical to reducing the immediate consequences of youth violence are improvements in pre-hospital and emergency care, including access to care.

WHO response

WHO and partners collaborate to decrease youth violence through initiatives that help to identify, quantify and respond to the problem, these include:

  • drawing attention to the magnitude of youth violence and the need for prevention;
  • building evidence on the scope and types of violence in different settings, which is important to understanding the magnitude and nature of the problem at a global level;
  • developing guidance for Member States and all relevant sectors to prevent youth violence and strengthen responses to it;
  • supporting national efforts to prevent youth violence;
  • collaborating with international agencies and organizations to prevent youth violence globally.
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